The Wire article “‘Independent’ Seven Million Jobs Study Was Carried out With Government Help’”, published February 16, 2018, claims that there was some kind of government help and push to a jobs study that claimed 7 million people would be added to the payroll in 2017-18. While the piece talks about some help from NITI Aayog and Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO), the article does not seem to talk about the study’s findings at all but is preoccupied with the why and the how.
Why Was the Study Carried Out?
What was the need for such a survey? There is a “jobless growth” narrative being spread by certain sections of the media, including The Wire, which is based on Labour Bureau data on jobs which covers only those firms which have more than 10 employees. Economists and other experts have for a long time pointed out that this data is dated and inadequate and does not account for the actual employment situation in the economy.
That is why former NITI Aayog Vice Chairman Arvind Panagariya had expressed concerns about these figures that left out most of the informal sector jobs, where the majority of Indian jobs are. He had also recommended using a different kind of database for the purpose.
Based on his recommendations, a study authored by the SBI group’s Chief Economic Advisor Soumya Kanti Ghosh and Pulak Ghosh, a professor at the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, calculated the number of jobs in firms from the membership of the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO), Employees’ State Insurance Corporation, General Provident Fund and National Pension System (NPS).
The Question of ‘Help’
The study mentioned above is one of its kind and experimental, often using raw data, but it is the first undertaken along the lines advocated by NITI Aayog and economists for some time, to get a more accurate picture on jobs in the economy.
The claims made by The Wire piece that the government pushed for the study on jobs must be placed in context. While there is no evidence that the government “pushed” for the study, government aid for and interest in research surely cannot be a bad thing? There are many studies funded by the Indian government and by governments across the world. Such studies often help formulate policies and implement them.
Further, the article mentions that NITI Aayog gave Messrs Ghosh and Ghosh access to the EPFO database for a period between January 2015 and November 2017. The research started back in January 2015, much before the “jobless growth” narrative had been built by certain sections of the media and political quarters. This should serve as ample evidence for those who believe that this was a hastily done research only meant to counter the negative narrative on jobs.
Data Being Made ‘Selectively Available’
Coming to the question of selective availability of data, there are many surveys and research conducted where sensitive data is made available to a select few, to those the government thinks are the right authority on the subject matter. The Wire piece itself mentions that Pulak Ghosh is an expert on Big Data and was also part of the advisory group on Big Data at the United Nations. Therefore, people with the right knowledge and accountability can certainly be allowed access to sensitive data?
The Wire article raises no questions about the methodology of the study or its findings. If there should be any criticism or suggestions, it should be made about the research, and not who and how some data was made available to a select few. The Writer would have done better to offer constructive criticism about the study methodology and findings, if any was felt needed. But perhaps, the lack of such criticism also means the writer has nothing to contest about the study’s methodology and findings?